‘Flipped’ Denver school board elects former teacher as president, after new members sworn in

Following an election that “flipped” the Denver school board, giving control to members backed by the teachers union, the board on Wednesday elected a new president: Carrie Olson, who left a decades-long teaching career two years ago to serve on the board.

Jennifer Bacon, another former teacher, was elected vice president. The votes to elect Olson and Bacon were by secret ballot, and both were unanimous.

Voting for the first time were three new board members sworn in Wednesday: Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann, and Brad Laurvick.

Anderson was chosen as board secretary. He was unanimously nominated by his fellow board members for the position. Angela Cobián, who was elected to the board in 2017 alongside Olson and Bacon, was chosen as treasurer. She won more votes for treasurer than Baldermann, who was also nominated.

While Denver school board elections are often polarizing, with candidates backed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association on one side and those backed by education reform groups on the other, the selection of board officers signals a willingness to work together, Olson said.

Olson, Bacon, and Anderson were all backed in their school board elections by the teachers union, while Cobián was backed by groups that favored the district’s reform policies.

“We’re moving beyond the polarities of one extreme or the other, and everybody is coming together to work to improve Denver Public Schools,” Olson said after the meeting.

But she also said it’s time for a change.

“We all share a passion for equity and thinking not just how can we make Denver Public Schools better, but how can we really dig into the details of what that means,” she said.

Carrie Olson was elected president of the Denver school board on Dec. 4, 2019. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

The board room was packed with board members’ family and friends. The loudest cheers were for Anderson, who graduated from Denver Public Schools in 2017 and until recently worked as a restorative practices coordinator at North High School, helping students resolve conflicts. He left that job because board rules prohibit district employees from serving on the board.

After he took his seat at the dais, Anderson gave a rousing speech.

“Last night, somebody was like, ‘Oh, we have a school board member that wears his hat backwards. He’s a thug,’” Anderson said.

He pulled out a black baseball cap and put it on backward. “Let me just show you that this school board member looks like his district,” he said.

Anderson replaces former board member Happy Haynes, who was barred by term limits from running for re-election. As one of two at-large members, Anderson represents the entire city.

Baldermann replaces former board president Anne Rowe, who was also term-limited. He represents District 1 in southeast Denver. Baldermann is a father of two Denver elementary school students who recently served as president of the PTA at his children’s school.

Laurvick replaces former board member Lisa Flores, who did not run for re-election. He represents District 5 in northwest Denver. Laurvick is a Methodist pastor and father of two whose oldest child attends a Denver elementary school.

All three newly elected board members were active in supporting the Denver teachers union during a three-day strike in February. On the campaign trail, they expressed skepticism about reform policies adopted by previous boards. Each pledged not to close struggling schools or open new charter schools, two tactics the board tried in the past to boost student achievement.

New Vice President Bacon said the next couple of years “are going to be an incredible opportunity for us all.”

“We have the chance to reflect upon where we’ve been, and to say with conviction what it is that we want to see and we hope for, and get to that work of being able to define truly who Denver Public Schools is,” Bacon said.

“This is the time for vision, this is the time for opportunity, this is the time for honesty, and this is the time for love.”